Democrat Matt Heinz says it time to have a serious discussion about whether high-capacity ammunition containers should be banned.
But his opponent in the Congressional District 2 Democratic primary, incumbent Ron Barber, said the best way to prevent future mass shootings is to improve the mental-health system, not engage in a political debate about how much ammunition people can have in a magazine.
Their answers came during a televised forum that will air at 6:30 p.m. Monday on KUAT's "Arizona Illustrated."
Amid the backdrop of two recent mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin, Barber and Heinz were asked about high-capacity magazines. It's an issue that arose following the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson at a Congress on Your Corner event with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in which six people were killed and 12 others injured, including Giffords and Barber.
Authorities say the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, used a Glock semiautomatic pistol with a high-capacity magazine. Investigators found 31 shell casings at the scene and an empty magazine that held 31 rounds. He was tackled by four people before he could load another magazine.
A federal law banning the manufacture of high-capacity magazines, defined as more than 10 rounds, expired in 2004. The ban was in place for a decade as part of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
Here's what Barber and Heinz said:
Even though 90 percent of people with mental illness never commit a violent act, many of the gunmen in mass shootings fit this profile, including Loughner.
Identifying these people and getting them help is vital, he said.
"The issue really is, how do we deal with people who are disturbed to the point where they might commit a violent act?" he said.
"We have to have a community more aware of the what the symptoms are. We have to have a mental-health system that works with them. And we cannot continue to, as we've done in Arizona, to cut mental-health services."
Barber said each mass shooting forces him to relive the pain he and his family, and countless others, went through in 2011.
"For me, it's a very personal issue," Barber said. "I really can't go beyond initially thinking about those victims in Aurora and Wisconsin."
When pressed about his opinion on high-capacity magazines, Barber said he would solicit recommendations from law enforcement leaders.
"This is not the time, in the emotion of these three shootings, or the two most recent shootings, to engage in this kind of political debate," he said.
Mental-health services need to be beefed up, but it's also time to have a serious dialogue about high-capacity magazines, said Heinz, a Tucson doctor and state representative. This discussion would be a way to honor the memories of the victims of the mass shootings.
"I'm not saying there needs necessarily to be a ban, but that should be on the table," said Heinz, pointing out that many of the mass shooters have used high-capacity magazines.
Heinz acknowledged it's impossible to stop all disturbed people from going on rampages, but he argued that having fewer bullets may reduce the number of people killed. Having fewer bullets in each magazine would have lessened the bloodshed in the Tucson shooting, he said.
"If he had to stop for five or 10 seconds and fumble around, and reload, and get tackled at that point, 20 fewer bullets would have left his gun," Heinz said.
The 30-minute forum between Barber and Heinz was mostly civil, but the two took some jabs at each other when they were asked about Barber's vote to support a Republican-backed measure to allow the Border Patrol to bypass many environmental laws on federally managed lands within 100 miles of the border.
In defending his new TV ad in which he says Barber's vote contributed to tea-party extremist legislation, Heinz said the district's residents want to know why Barber made that vote.
Barber repeated what he's said before about that vote - that the 100-mile zone was excessive but that he wanted to make a strong statement about the need for border security measures.
He called the TV ad "despicable" for linking him to the tea party and called on Heinz to denounce the ad. Heinz refused, and took another jab at Barber for voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in "civil contempt" in relation to an investigation of the "Fast and Furious" gun operation. Heinz called it a pattern of caving to extremist legislation.
That drew a rebuttal from Barber, who clarified that the vote was made to ensure the president's use of executive privilege is reviewed by the courts.
Then Barber fired back at Heinz:
"He talks about experience," Barber said. "It seems to me, Matt, that you have experience in running political attack ads and caving in and cutting deals with right-wing sheriffs."
Barber was referring to Heinz's support in 2011 for a bill that would have given $5 million to Sheriff Paul Babeu and the Pinal County Sheriff's Department for body armor, night-vision goggles and other equipment to bolster border security.
Heinz was one of just two Democrats who voted for that.
Heinz didn't have time in the forum to defend that vote, but he has said there was a clear need to help the Sheriff's Department.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org